Monday, Aug 2nd, 2010
‘The Minority Report’, a dystopian short story by Philip K. Dick, was written as a stark warning of what may happen in the future should society be engulfed by invasive technology and begin to regard privacy and civil liberties as antiquated.
Of course the artistic intention is always going to go straight over the heads of some people, including, it seems, today’s real life technological executives who are developing the exact same kind of devices the iconic author imagined would plague shopping malls of the future.
In a memorable scene from the story and the 2002 movie, starring Tom Cruise, the lead character walks through such a place only to be bombarded with personalised adverts from digital billboards telling him he could use a Guinness or a holiday to forget his troubles.
Watch the scene:
In another scene the character enters a GAP store and is hit with special offers based on stored information detailing his previous purchases:
‘How awful’, you and I would automatically think. ‘How wonderful’, researchers have concluded at IBM, the company that, incidentally, previously facilitated Hitler’s death-camp punchcard tabulation system.
“IBM claims that its technology will help prevent consumers from being subjected to a barrage of irritating advertising because they will only be shown adverts for products that are relevant to them.” reports the London Telegraph .
“In the film, the billboards rely on scanning the person’s eyeball,” Brian Innes, a research scientist at IBM’s innovation laboratories said. “…but we are using RFID technology that people are carrying around with them, so they can have a tailor made message.”
RFID chips are now commonly embedded in mobile phones, credit cards, shopping loyalty cards and even clothes.
The chips can be coded with personal information that readers can scan. The type of advertising will be determined on the basis of what your chip says your buying habits are, thus allowing advertising boards to personally and intimately target any passer by.
A spokesman for the Advertising Association, the industry body that represents advertisers, said: “Outdoor RFID advertising is an exciting prospect for the industry. Ads can be made more relevant to the consumer and it will boost interest in the medium”.
We have previously covered the fact that private industry and eventually government are set to implement plans to use microphones and cameras in the computers and TiVo style boxes of hundreds of millions of Americans to monitor their lifestyle choices and build psychological profiles, which will be used for invasive advertising and data mining.
In 2006, Google announced that they would use in-built microphones to listen in on user’s background noise, be it television, music or radio – and then direct advertising at them based on their preferences.
“The idea is to use the existing PC microphone to listen to whatever is heard in the background, be it music, your phone going off or the TV turned down. The PC then identifies it, using fingerprinting, and then shows you relevant content, whether that’s adverts or search results, or a chat room on the subject,” reported the Register .
In 2008 Comcast Vice-President Gerard Kunkel admitted to a journalist that the use of inbuilt monitoring devices in cable boxes would represent a “holy grail,” and rival companies like TiVo and Microsoft have already filed patents for similar technology.
Hundreds of millions will all be potential targets for secret surveillance and the subsequent sell-off of all their information to unscrupulous data mining corporations and government agencies.
The report cites the inevitability that the use and abuse of this technology will eventually be taken over by the state.
“Pretty soon the security industry is going to find a way to hijack the Google feed and use it for full on espionage,” states the article. Thus the state gains a trendy method of constant, cradle-to-grave surveillance.
If you think telesales calls and pop-ups ads are annoying, wait until this new wave of invasive advertising really takes off. It threatens to not only saturate the senses with 24/7 vapid consumerism, but will also signal the death knell for the assumption that privacy is a human right not to be infringed upon by corporations or the state.
Unless the stark warnings of Philip K. Dick and other sociological analysts like him are taken seriously, we will find ourselves living out the realities that previously only emerged from the darkest recesses of their minds.